Finance Minister Conor Murphy has invited opinions on the next draft Budget for the financial year commencing in April.
In a 74-page budget review, he has set out his proposals on devolved current and capital spending (DEL) of £13.2bn.
The minister would be the first to accept that this is not a conventional public sector budget.
It covers the full range of devolved public sector spending but offers no detailed conclusion on any expected deficit or surplus, after taking account of expected revenue.
The Stormont budget, as in earlier years, avoids a rigorous statement which helps the reader to understand how one year compares with another.
Readers are told that current devolved spending at £11.6bn is expected to be £41m higher than in the year just ending.
An increase of less than 0.5%, or a standstill budget - meaning a small fall in real terms.
Spending on conventional capital items is expected to increase by £97m and the earmarked items classed as 'financial transactions capital' will be £111m lower.
The extra Treasury funding to finance the Covid-19 emergency added £3bn to public spending in 2020-21.
In 2021-22 the minister has only £542m available for the continuing Covid-19 commitments and this could leave the Stormont budget with funding shortfalls.
The minister points to a series of problems caused by the UK Treasury. He points to the budget uncertainty caused by Covid-19.
The Treasury had said that for 2020-21 and further years there would be a multi-year budget.
The budgetary consequences of the pandemic have pushed the Treasury into a single year budget and, critically important, has left too little time to prepare a multi-year approach.
Closer reading of the draft Budget suggests growing tensions between Westminster and Stormont.
Several pieces of business are unfinished. These include:
Loss of funds because of Brexit
It is not clear that lost EU funding will be replaced in full, the NI Executive may not control any replacement funding, and there may not be sufficient funds to address challenges as a result of Brexit.
No clarity whether the Shared Prosperity Fund will fully replace EU Structural Funds
Funding packages not yet formally confirmed: resource items £164m; capital £90m
Confidence and Supply items awaiting confirmation: resource £30m; capital £42m
Costs of implementing EU Protocol: Treasury proposal awaited
Loss of special one-off additional £350m for New Decade, New Approach, provided only for 2020-21
The draft Budget, conspicuously, makes no mention of the dispute about who pays for the funding of the pensions payments now agreed for victims of the Troubles. No proposed allocation is made in the NI Budget.
The ending of EU Single Farm Payments in support of local farming leads to a loss of £331m through the NI budget. However, it is acknowledged that this funding will be replaced by new local arrangements but there is no detail of how the funding may be divided.
The Budget statement does not go into detail on the range of spending commitments which are classified as Annually Managed Expenditure (AME). These contain the spending on social security schemes, pension payments and other items which flow to people in Northern Ireland but where the scale of spending does not lie within the Stormont devolution arrangements. Rates of expenditure under AME are determined as part of the Westminster Budget.
In a summary total, readers learn that this is estimated to cost £11.04bn which is in addition to the £13.2bn of DEL spending. Just over a year ago, in the special arrangements for the New Decade, New Arrangements agreed to get the Northern Ireland Executive re-established, there was a proposal that a Fiscal Commission should be established by London and Stormont to examine the overall financial relations underpinning the NI Budget. To date, there has been no public statement on when this will happen.
There is a suspicion that there is less enthusiasm for this work from the Stormont end. Whatever the causation, the uncertainties of the Stormont budget illustrate that the budget problems await the clarity of a clear Westminster and Stormont agreement.
Conor Murphy is avoiding this chance to get an agreed basis for a more normal budget.
Perhaps it would risk the Treasury proposing a less generous deal.